Indonesia says lack of coronavirus cases a blessing from the Almighty
JAKARTA Indonesia's Health Minister defended the country's screening process for the coronavirus yesterday and said the absence of confirmed cases in the world's fourth most populous nation was a "blessing".
The country of more than 260 million people has not recorded any cases though some of its citizens overseas have contracted the virus, including eight crew on the Diamond Princess cruise liner off Japan's Yokohama.
Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said 134 test samples taken from people suspected of having the coronavirus had turned out negative.
"If until this second all came out negative, then it's a blessing from the Almighty," he told reporters.
Mr Putranto said tests on two patients who died this week after suffering symptoms associated with contracting the virus had been negative.
On Feb 23, a Singaporean died after reportedly suffering fever and shortness of breath in Batam, but the head of the local health agency said this was due to another unspecified disease.
The death of a 37-year-old man in Semarang in Central Java who was suffering pneumonia was caused by H1N1 flu, he said.
Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in the US, said in a study this month that Indonesia should strengthen outbreak surveillance and control - especially as it had direct flights from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
The Harvard team said Indonesia's lack of confirmed cases "may suggest the potential for undetected cases" as air travel may contribute to cases being exported from China.
Indonesia has barred entry to visitors who have been in China for 14 days and stopped all flights to and from there.
It has tested relatively few people, but Mr Putranto said tests were done when "doctors determine they have symptoms that point to that direction".
"Imagine if everybody who had a cough or flu was checked, then millions would be checked," he said.
Mr Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, the World Health Organisation's Indonesia representative, has said it was "quite confident that Indonesia is ready to be able to respond to this situation". - REUTERS